January 10 2007

After what has mostly been a positive off-season in which the Phillies massively overhauled their starting rotation and rolled the dice to get some help at third base, some murmurs of worry have arisen with the news that Karim Garcia will soon be a Phillie.  The Phillies clearly still have moves to make in the bullpen, but some wonder if the outfield at this point is set, with Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand and Shane Victorino penciled in to start with Jayson Werth and Karim Garcia the likely fourth and fifth outfielders.

After the Phillies lost Abreu and Dellucci and the big free agent names went off the board, you had to be prepared for the simple reality that there was not much chance the Phillies were going to be able to make up the offense they lost when Abreu became a Yankee and Dellucci set sail for Cleveland.

The question is, how bad is it?  More specifically, if Burrell, Rowand and Victorino played every day and got every at-bat in the Phillies outfield in left, center and right respectively, and produced offense in 2007 at the same rate they did in 2006, how many fewer runs would the Phillies score?  Granted, there is exactly zero chance that is going to happen.  Nonetheless, I set off in search of a reasonable estimate.  Here's what I did:

Calculated the runs created for the Phillies in 2006 at left field, center field and right field and came up with 116 in left, 84 in center and 95 in right.  I added them together and got 295.  Then I adjusted Pat Burrell's numbers to give him the same number of plate appearances as all Philllies' left fielders got in '06 combined and calculated what his runs created would have been had he gotten that many plate appearances:  114.  Did the same with Rowand for the center fielders and got 80. Did the same for Victorino in right and got 84.  Added 114, 80 and 84 and got 278.  Subtracted 278 from 295 and came up with, drum roll, please: 17.  So I'm going with it.  Forced to make a guess of how many fewer runs the Phillies' outfield would produce in 2007 if Burrell, Rowand and Victorino played every day and produced offense at the same levels they did in '06, 17 is my guess.

There are a lot of problems with this, obviously.  Burrell, Rowand and Victorino aren't going to get all of the at-bats in the outfield.  Rowand is going to get hurt and maybe traded.  Werth, and whoever the fifth outfielder is, are going to play.  Burrell will lose at-bats when Manuel removes him for pinch runners and defensive replacements.  That said, it's still not quite as bad as I would have expected.

One reason it may have turned out to be a little better than I had worried is because of what Abreu did in right last season.  He got on base at a tremendous rate without hitting for much power.  In 334 at-bats while playing right field he hit 278/428/434.  While the .428 on-base percentage is outstanding and virtually impossible for the Phillies to replace, the .434 slugging percentage for a right fielder is less so.  Victorino himself slugged .414.  In 2006 there were 25 NL players who got 100 plate appearances as a right fielder, and 16 of them outslugged Abreu (only one of them, Lance Berkman, got on base at a higher rate).  Phillies' batters hit just 13 home runs last season while playing right field, which was last in the NL.  Their 58 extra-base hits was 14th in the league.  In 2007, the Phillies' right fielders aren't going to get on base as much as they did last year, but there's a good chance they will hit for more power.

On the downer side, the way I formulated my guess likely obscured the contribution that Dellucci made.  Dellucci got 116 at-bats in left, hitting 276/351/534 and 82 at-bats as a right fielder, in which he hit 305/406/524.  Those at-bats in left were very good -- and they basically get wiped away the way I put my guess together because Burrell produced offense at about the same rate.  Really, the Phillies have no way to replace them and it's unlikely they will get that kind of production from a backup left fielder in '07.  The Phillies made a mistake last season in the number of at-bats they took away from Pat Burrell -- if they do that again this season it will be an even bigger mistake because the at-bats he loses will likely be going to a lesser hitter than Dellucci who is going to produce lesser numbers.

The good news is that if the number really turns out to be 17 or anything close to it, the Phillies can make up for it in other areas, specifically by creating more runs at third base and preventing more runs with their revamped rotation.  And with their bullpen, if they ever figure out who is going to be in it.

Article here about Phillies minor league pitcher Will Savage.

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